Tag Archives: memoirs

A Day at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival

Poet Jevon Johnson - LA Times Book Festival
Poet Jevon Johnson – Spoken Word Performance
The Los Angeles Times Book Festival is the largest book event in California. It is speculated that 150,000 people come to the festival, located on the campus of USC, to partake of poetry, music, authors and celebrities. The event is a maze of author panels, book signings, book sellers, poetry readings and music that it would be easy to become lost in the sea of people and books, like drifting flotsam.

Although I’ve been a bibliophile most of my life, I have never attended a book festival before. When my writing friends spoke of forming a carpool to the event, I felt intrigued and eager to attend. There were four of us hearty souls on a journey of discovery, all piled into our friend’s comfortable van. On the way to Los Angeles, we spoke about tickets to the many events, which booths we wanted to visit and where we would meet up at the end of the day.

The weather was warm and sunny, but not with the bite of heat that Southern California is known for. I had armed myself with a wide brimmed sun-hat, plenty of sunscreen, and a backpack filled with granola bars and bottles of water. My day began at one of the ticket booths, gathering the needed print-outs to the panels I had selected to attend. Many had been marked as sold out on-line before the event, but I discovered that not only were the tickets free on walk up, but all the events that I thought I could not attend were now available. With undisguised greed, I accepted the free tickets before my friend and I rushed off to our first event.

As we hiked across the campus, I was reminded of my first days as a college freshman, my nose tucked in a map and a confused, lost expression on my face. My friend and I became misplaced near the poetry stage, where performance poets were reading for a small morning crowd and then wandered to a nearby book signing booth where volunteers were stacking novels in preparation of the first signings of the day. Books by Carol Burnett, the famous comedienne and actress were everywhere in the booth. At this point, we realized that we had gone the wrong way.

Making a quick course correction, we managed to slip into the back seats of our selected panel, Fiction: Setting and Story. The panelists were Jami Attenberg, Kevin P. Keating, Michael Lavigne and Maggie Shipstead. They spoke about how they developed the ideas for the settings of their novels and answered a few questions of the 200 or so attendees of their panel. It was not a writing workshop, more of an expression of what they did as authors and details about their books. Afterward, they were ushered by handlers to their book signing booth where I’m sure they sold many copies of their books to the audience.

I had a little time before the next panel started, so I stopped for lunch at the row of food trucks that had come to the campus that day. There was a wide selection of choices from burgers to pita sandwiches and salads. My friend and I managed to find a shady table in the pavilion set up on the campus track to enjoy our lunch. The springy feel of the track under my feet made me feel as if I could propel myself into flight; Only the best running surfaces for team USC.

I noticed there was a police presence assembling near the food trucks, mainly officers on horseback. Four of them had pulled up their horses in a row and were allowing two children to pet the horse’s noses. As I made a point to pass by in front of the horses, knowing better than to walk behind a horse’s rump, I noticed that in addition to the usual firearms, each officer had what appeared to be a sword near the pommel of their saddle. On closer inspection it proved to be a long ivory hued club with a carved hilt. Most curious. I had comic visions of LAPD officers, as samurai warriors, chasing evil doers at the festival with their wooden swords. Yet, I was also comforted by the officers presence due to the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon. This was a large public event and it could be a terrorist target.

The next panel I attended proved to be my favorite of the day. It was entitled Fiction from the 22nd Century and featured science fiction authors: Austin Grossman, Scott Hutchins, Lydia Netzer and Robin Sloan. Again, this was not a writing workshop, but authors speaking about a topic as it pertained to their own writing. The topic was about how speculative fiction has changed from the golden age of science fiction to today, where authors do not attempt to predict what is to come, but instead explain the ramifications of science in our current lives. Being a science fiction writer, I found the topic to be quite applicable to my own writing and found myself eager to take notes with my fountain pen.

The next event was to hear author Orson Scott Card interviewed by Aaron Johnston. Two of Mr. Card’s novels are on my favorite list: Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. I ended up being disappointed by this interview because the author was extremely focused on the filming of his novel, Ender’s Game, and his day of playing a bit role in the movie instead of speaking about writing. Still, I was able to get a sense of the man’s personality and a few thoughts about how he viewed his writing and his career. I noticed that the authors that he listed as his greatest inspiration were the same as my own.

I caught the tail-end of the word stylings by Javon Johnson, two-time National Poetry Slam champion and USC Professor, who was performing his poetry on the main stage and getting the crowd involved with his act. The cadence of his words were comical and yet thought provoking.

There were an astounding number of book vendors selling every sort of book you could imagine on the pedestrian walkway under the shade trees. Booths that specialized in indie authors were the most numerous. There were also several writer’s groups that offered book signings by their members; Murder, We Wrote and the Independent Writers of Southern California were the two that caught my eye. Both are local writer’s groups in the Los Angeles area. The most attractive booth was the Jane Austen Society of North America who were selling fanfiction Austen titles and promoting their local chapter in Pasadena. Inside the booth were hung Regency style costumes and the tables were draped with lace. You could almost believe that Jane herself was about to appear for a book signing of Pride and Prejudice.

Authors DeAnna Cameron and Greta Boris
Authors DeAnna Cameron and Greta Boris
I ended my day at the booth of Red Phoenix Books. My friends Greta Boris and DeAnna Cameron were both holding book signings there. Greta writes non-fiction about fitness and DeAnna is a steampunk and historical fiction novelist. Both reported a busy day and plenty of visitors.

Red Phoenix Books is owned by Claudia Alexander, a scientist who publishes not only a range of science books aimed at children, but also several steampunk novels. I was pleased to have a chance to chat with Claudia about steam engines and how to better understand this technology when writing Steampunk fiction. There is nothing like having a JPL scientist to ask a few questions of.

By this time, the festival was winding to its close. One by one, our foursome met up at the Red Phoenix Booth. We returned to the valet parking station to retrieve our vehicle. Once more we journeyed on, out of the city and back home, each recounting different tales of our day at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival.

Baptism by Fire is Published in Shadows Express Magazine

I am delighted to announce that my short story memoir entitled Baptism by Fire is included in the Winter 2012 issue of Shadows Express Magazine. This is a small press literary magazine that promotes the writers from writing.com. The magazine is free to read online or to download and is published via ISSUE.

Baptism by Fire is a recounting of the first time that I directed a multi-camera live television program and what it was like to be an intern at a local cable company. This is a new revised version of the story and it is around 5000 words in length.

Italian Cooking

There is something about the scent of homemade spaghetti sauce as it bubbles away in my kitchen. It speaks of lazy summer nights out on the patio, of food that is healthy and rich in flavor, and it reminds me of the love I have for my little family as I provide good food for us at economical prices. My sauce is full of rich tomatoes, Italian sausage, red wine, garlic, basil, a touch of brown sugar and lots of time in the crockpot to develop its thick and rich character.

I started cooking at the tender age of twelve in defense of a mother that couldn’t cook her way out of a disaster. My mother attempted many recipes from chili, to spareribs, even to pickling cucumbers. All the recipes were from a parade of modern day cookbooks that were stacked haphazardly in our kitchen. Everything she touched was met with culinary failure. I remember a day when she silently stared at four long rows of homemade pickles in our basement, opened a jar and sniffed the contents. Then she threw out every single jar of pickles she had canned. She told me that she did not feel that they were safe to eat. About the only positive thing you could say about my mother’s cooking was that it remained edible…almost. When I around five or six years old, my father started to take over the kitchen and on the days he cooked, while the fare was hearty and not imaginative, at least you could eat it. I always regretted that I had no family member to learn cooking from and that there were no regional or old world dishes for me to inherit.

During my teenage years, I slowly took over dinner preparation. Both my parents worked and then went out square dancing four nights a week, so the task of getting a meal on the table for myself, my parents and younger brother fell on my shoulders. Cooking, cleaning and washing dishes became my daily tasks. I did not enjoy washing the dishes or the cleaning, but I slowly gained an appreciation for the art of cooking. I watched cooking shows on television and learned that each region of the world had their own pallet of flavors that they favored. Learning how a culture cooked its meals gave me an understanding of what it might be like to live in other parts of the world and how other families might gather around their table. My favorite type of cooking became Italian cuisine. Mainly northern Italian since I loved aborio rice and the rich beef dishes of that region. I find the food is healthy, light and full of variety.

As fate would have it, I met and married a half-Italian man. One of the things that he loved while we were dating was that I cooked Italian food that reminded him of his mother’s, although he would always point out that his mother cooked Southern Italian fare and I cooked Northern Italian style. I would hear him chat with his mother about my dishes and she would integrate him about what I cooked and what ingredients I used. Then declare that it was not quite what she considered Italian. Even so, I spent many a day watching cooking shows with my mother-in-law and we both enjoyed comparing notes about our favorite television chefs. Cooking was something that we had in common.

I think about my mother-in-law sometimes when I make my homemade spaghetti sauce. It is not a recipe handed down to me by my grandmother or mother, but one that I found rave reviews for on the internet. It is Jo Mama’s Spaghetti Sauce, the author claims that her children will turn down a steak dinner in favor of her sauce and after making it many times over the past few years, I agree with her. It is now my sauce and one that I’m known for. I always make a huge batch all at once and freeze away four or five quarts of it for future use. My husband loves it. I might not have been raised with the traditions of an Italian mother, but I think that my mother-in-law approved of my cooking and how I take care of her son. I hope she is up there smiling down on us as we enjoy our spaghetti dinners.

Bicycling Preparations

One weekend morning, I heard my husband banging in the tool box out in the garage as I was wrapping up a review of a story on one of my writing sites. “Where is my socket wrench?” he called to me across the house. I paused to think where the proper tool for the task might be.

“Why don’t we use mine in the back of the SUV?” I replied to him. I closed the browser on my computer and started a search for my shoes. Aha! They were still under my computer desk.

“But I want to use a socket wrench,” he exclaimed far more loudly than necessary. I heard more banging. “I found it!”

I slipped into my leather sketchers and tied the laces. “Wouldn’t it be easier to use the small wrench that I keep in my SUV?” I made my way down the hallway toward the garage. I heard strong language coming from the garage as I arrived. I looked at my husband who was holding a small wrench and its accompanying sockets. He looked irritated. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t have a 3/16th socket! I have everything else!” I shook my head and took the box of sockets from him. “Let’s get the bike rack and give my wrench a try. It’s adjustable.”

We walked outside to where my SUV was parked in the driveway. I noticed that my husband had taken the new bike rack out of its box and it was waiting there for installation upon the rear tire of our vehicle. He read the instructions on how to install it, but then confessed that he didn’t understand them. My husband has trouble thinking visually, so I looked at the illustration and at the bike rack myself. I lifted the rack and placed it on the tire. “I think that it goes on like this.” We both played with the contraption on the tire, discovering how the bolts moved and the straps might be placed. When strength was needed, I directed my husband where to pull the straps.

When it came time to tighten the rack on my car, I took out the six inch adjustable wrench that I always leave in the back of the SUV for camping purposes and twisted the bolts to secure the rack as my husband watched. Before I finished, he took the wrench from me and made sure that the bolts were tight enough. “I hate these wrenches,” he muttered as he worked.

I admired our handy work. “It doesn’t look bad at all,” I remarked. “Are you ready to go riding in the park with me tomorrow?” For me, riding a bicycle is a time of meditation, when I tap into ideas for new plots as the wind blows through my hair. Maybe it is the regular motion of the pedals, or the sense of freedom while zipping along the bike paths, but cycling is a true creative time for me.

“Yes, I can’t wait!” He handed the little wrench back to me. I took the wrench and the bungee cords that went with the bike rack and put them into a little pocket on the back of my SUV. They would all remain there until needed again. I smiled at my husband. It was going to be fun to have a riding partner. Bicycling is always more enjoyable when you have someone to join you.

Paper-phobia and the Modern Writer

Crimson Filofax Malden BinderI’ve been noticing a curious habit in young writers that, quite frankly, baffles me. I call it paper-phobia. I first noticed it when someone asked for alternates of a word choice at a coffeehouse write-in. Trying to be helpful, I pulled out my soft cover pocket thesaurus and attempted to hand it to the writer. I was met with a puzzled stare.

“What is that?” I was asked.

“A thesaurus,” I replied casually, expecting a thank you. Instead, the young woman exchanged amused glances with two other college aged writers in the group. She did not take the book.

A second writer quipped, “Go to dictionary.com.” The first writer nodded and started to type quickly on her laptop. I sat there dumbfounded with my book in hand. I’ve used the search engine thesaurus before, but I’ve always found it to have fewer choices than the book bound version and since it is a search engine, you lose the added benefit of seeing other words near your choice, which often sparks other ideas. Not to mention, many times the wifi connection at coffeehouses are not the best and tends to drop out at the most inopportune time. I attempted to explain this to the young writer, knowing that the book was better, but I was met with resistance and amusement. I ended up tucking my book back into my book bag and returning to my writing.

Other incidents occurred. A writer would not take a referral from me because I had put it on my phone. It did not occur to her to write the information on a piece of paper. I even provided the paper and pen and she would not write it down. Another time, I was mocked at a write-in for bringing my outline on a sheet of paper instead of putting it on my phone and calling it up electronically. When I decided to be “modern” and put my notes on my ipod touch, I found that I could not access the information at a write-in and ended up losing more than one evening of work because the outline was not accessible. At a writer’s critique group I once belonged to, all of the writers read their stories off of laptops. When someone brought their story on a sheet of paper, they were looked down upon. I listened to other writers complain about how their laptops were constantly breaking down or worse, losing all their data because they had forgotten to back it up on a thumb drive. Finally, while at the post office, I spoke about an article that I had published while waiting to mail my package. The young woman I was talking to returned to me after concluding her business the with clerk and asked for the name of the magazine. I told her the name of the online publication, but said that I didn’t have the link available to write it down for her. She shrugged, “Oh, I’ll just google it,” she smiled and walked away. Now, while I’m glad to have a new reader for the magazine, I was baffled how she would find it since it had a common name. Yet, this young woman seemed confident that it would not be a problem.

This got me to thinking, when had people stopped using paper? Why was it considered old-fashioned to the point of embarrassment? I don’t view these young people as evil or even that their use of technology is wrong, but I don’t believe that cutting away everything from the past is right either. I started to view my own movement away from paper with a new eye.

In college, I used a paper planner to keep track of my schedule. All my class notes were written in notebooks, and most of my term papers and stories were typed on typewriters. White-out was my friend! If I published a story, it was to a limited print edition in a bound book or printed magazine. Gradually over the years my calender moved to my computer and synced with my phone, most of my writing was done on a computer and published on-line. My personal books went from scores of paperback novels to ebooks on my reader. My notes and recipes for cooking all became digital memos that I moved from one device to another via wifi. My paper organizer got lost in a box somewhere.

Technology is not a bad thing. In some ways the new methods of transferring and retaining information are superior to what went on before. However, I am becoming of a mind that losing the old ways of doing things is not necessarily a good thing. I’ve been taking a long look at what is needed to be a modern writer and I’ve concluded that it is a mixture of the old and the new.

My New Year’s Resolution to this end is to re-introduce paper into my life. I have purchased a new filofax organizer. In it will be all the notes, outlines and character sketches that I use as I work on my novels. I have set up a tracking system to write down each day my approximate word count, where I was writing and what I was writing. The act of putting it down on paper and seeing the marks when I open up the organizer helps to keep me on track. I will no longer be at the mercy of a wifi connection, a battery or a phone app when I wish to write in a coffeehouse, on my patio or at the park. I am looking forward to the day when not only will I come prepared with a paper bound thesaurus to my write-in, but all my research information will be written down on paper as well. That, combined with my Alphasmart Neo will make my writing desk truly portable and independent.

Paper-phobes….beware!!! I am on a mission!